Paula Deen has officially launched her comeback, a year after withdrawing from public life following her 35-pound weight loss and shocking racism controversy. Deen, who has type 2 diabetes, fell into a deep depression amid public outrage over her N-word scandal.
Looking back, Paula said she should have focused on treating her depression instead of doing TV interviews in a failed attempt to repair her heavily damaged public image.
“I didn’t recognize that woman,” Deen told the Today Show. “That was a woman in trauma, shock, trying to understand what had happened. The cold, hard fact is I probably should not have been [on TV]. I should have been at home, maybe even under the care of a doctor.”
Deen’s reputation and multi-million-dollar food empire were shattered after she admitted in a June 2013 deposition to using the N-word years ago at her Georgia restaurant. She also confessed that she had once planned to throw a “Southern plantation-styled” wedding featuring African-American slaves. The revelations came after a former employee filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against Deen and her brother Earl Bubba Heirs.
Accused of Hiding Diabetes for Four Years
After the scandal, Paula lost her Food Network contract and all her lucrative endorsements. Deen was also heavily criticized after revealing in 2012 that she had been battling type 2 diabetes since 2008.
In a move that many viewed as calculated and exploitative, the queen of Southern fried food made the diabetes revelation on the same day she announced a lucrative deal to rep a $500-a-month diabetes drug manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk.
Paula was immediately slammed for hiding her medical condition for almost four years while promoting her unhealthy recipes in her bestselling cookbooks and popular TV cooking shows. Among her most vocal critics was celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who ripped Deen’s move as distasteful.
“When your signature dish is a hamburger in between a doughnut, and you’ve been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you’ve got type 2 diabetes, it’s in bad taste if nothing else,” said Bourdain. Novo Nordisk later dumped Deen as a rep following her N-word controversy.
Diabetes Diagnosis Fueled 40-Pound Weight Loss
However, the diabetes diagnosis had one bright spot, which is that it spurred Paula’s 35-pound weight loss. Deen even got her husband and two sons to slim down, and together the four lost a combined 178 pounds.
Paula lost 35 pounds; her husband Michael Groover shed 60 pounds; her older son Jamie lost 45 pounds; and her younger son Bobby has maintained a 33-pound weight loss.
Deen recently purchased all her old cooking shows from the Food Network as part of her own subscription-based digital network. Paula will air all her shows, including “Paula’s Home Cooking,” “Paula’s Best Dishes” and “Paula’s Party.”
The move is part of a comeback she quietly began working on at the beginning of the year. In February 2014, Deen received a $75 million cash infusion from Najafi Companies, a Phoenix-based investment firm, to launch Paul Deen Ventures.
The new umbrella company will oversee all her restaurants, cookbooks, a retail store, and product endorsement deals. As part of her restructuring, Deen also plans to open a $20 million restaurant called Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, located next to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Paula said she has been getting lots of therapy to cope with her depression and is doing better. “I have been on a very erratic little journey with a psychologist I respect so much,” she said. Deen said the support from her loyal fans has also helped her heal. “If it wasn’t for my fans’ love, I’d be home breathing into a paper bag,” she said.